Hello PATH parents!
As parents, we have the incredible job of raising teens to become well-adjusted, responsible people who can successfully “adult” with integrity and purpose. No pressure, right? A big part of tackling that lofty goal involves training our teens to value and attend to their mental health during these critical years of adolescence.
In an excellent podcast, Teen Stress & Anxiety, presented by The Classical Academy in its Partnering with Parents segment (October 5, 2021), two school counselors, Charles Threat III and Andrea Strickland, were asked what stress and anxiety look like in a teenager. I loved the initial answer given: NORMAL! (Source)
Because for many of us parents, even though our teenage years don’t feel that far behind us, we wonder if we were as stressed as the teens of this generation seem to be. Yes, we, too, had school, work, and extracurriculars like our teens do today, but many of us didn’t have to deal with the Internet, social media, binge-watching, or virtual reality, which not only suck literal hours out of teens’ lives on the daily, but also add significant expectations and pressures (real or perceived).
Being reminded that stress in the teenage universe is normal, helps OUR mental health as parents! We are reminded that stress itself is not bad but actually helpful. Stress alerts our brains that something is important and needs our focused attention in the moment. The fight or flight response is designed to help us deal with a threat (real or imagined), either “to protect us from that threat or motivate us to take some necessary action,” according to Andrea Stickland.
She goes on to assert, however, that, “For a child, the effects of prolonged or excessive stress and anxiety is lower brain functionally long-term. So the stress hormones that are released during that fight or flight reaction, if prolonged, can reach toxic levels that actually change the way a young brain structurally grows. So this affects their behavior and learning, memory, and mood.”
Since experiencing stress is a genuine part of life that cannot be avoided, the goal is therefore to avoid prolonged stress reactions. To do so, it was recommended that parents focus on helping teens develop healthy habits for coping with stress in the moment by following the three tips below:
- Model healthy coping behavior. (What healthy habits work for you? Display them regularly in front of your teen! Those good habits could include getting good sleep, exercising regularly, making time for recreation, and being patient with oneself and others.)
- Validate your child’s emotions. Remember, your teens’ emotions are very real to them! Validating those emotions does not mean excusing bad behavior; it simply means recognizing that teenage emotions are real and need a healthy outlet.
- Help your teen engage in a grounding activity (that brings your teen back in touch with his or her body and the present moment). When stressed in the moment, teens can “mentally disengage from the stressor and re-engage with the present moment” through a myriad of activities: calm breathing, exercise movements, listening to calming music or peaceful nature noises like ocean waves, engaging with a pet or even watching live animal cameras, reading inspirational quotes, creating artwork, and playing games.
Since different strategies work for different people, it might take a minute to find the strategies that work best for your teen during moments of stress. If none of these methods seem to work for your teen, seek help from a mental health professional for support.
Just like we pay close attention to our teens’ physical health, let’s be intentional about their mental health, too. Healthy coping habits developed now can set our teens up to win on many levels, both in their current teen world and once they finally become those amazing adults we talked about earlier! With that potentially stressful thought, please enjoy a grounding activity that works for you and have a wonderful week shaping the next generation!
In the parenting trenches with you,